Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season. In the biggest game of the year, the C’s took control late to pick up a win.
Back in November, the Boston Celtics beat the Toronto Raptors 95-94. Kyrie Irving missed his only game with a broken nose but the remainder of the team managed to extend that early winning streak to 12 games.
After a February beatdown in Toronto, the Celtics were in the same situation. Kyrie Irving was out and a winning streak was on the line. History repeated itself with the C’s beating the Raptors 110-99 after breaking away late in the fourth.
Also, for the first time this season, yours truly was in attendance. I’m not trying to brag, but the view from section 325 was pretty spectacular. I could almost make out which player was which.
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Anyway, a few bonus takeaways from the Boston crowd: they love Terry Rozier (a “Ter-ry, Ter-ry” chant was started in the third) and they were very anti-kittens (Kyrie chose Kittens over Puppies, Drake, and Chappelle in the Celtics new bracket promo).
Also, Marcus Morris is becoming somewhat of a star in Boston. When he was ejected in the final seconds, he got a loud applause after a great performance. Here’s more on Morris and 3 other clovers from last night’s fantastic win:
Marcus Morris is taking over the world
Marcus Morris is playing the best basketball of his pro career. Plain and simple. After scoring inconsistently for much of the year, Morris is thriving in an upgraded role. In the Celtics six-game winning streak (in which he has played four games), he is averaging 30.8 MIN, 24 PTS, 61 FG% and an absurd 60% from three. Also, Morris is averaging 6.3 FTA with just one miss in that stretch. He has been the perfect spark plug off the bench.
Even more, Morris is stepping up with clutch shots. In Portland, he hit the clinching three to put the Celtics up 4 with a minute left. Last night, he hit a three to put the Celtics up 100-94 with 4:18 left. It would end up being the game-winner.
Now Morris is in prime position to be a key contributor in the playoffs. Backed by his teammates, the fans, and most importantly himself, he is surging at the perfect time. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
A perfect harmony
With Kyrie Irving out, the Celtics keep on winning. Why? Everyone and I mean everyone, is chipping in to make up for his absence. Along with Marcus Morris scoring off the bench, the entire starting lineup is playing at an excellent level.
Terry Rozier is not just a fill-in starting point guard. He is running the offense like a pro. The creativity and suave that Brad Stevens gives to his point guards is just amazing to watch. Everyone knows how much better Stevens made Isaiah Thomas. If IT had 10 healthy years with Brad, he is probably a first ballot Hall of Famer.
This year, Kyrie Irving transformed his game in just over half a season with the Celtics. Hey, even Shane Larkin has looked competent in his limited role. It did not skip a generation with Rozier. He can dribble, shoot, rebound, play high-energy defense and he has a competitive heart. What more could you ask for?
Speaking of “what more could you ask for?”, Al Horford has been reliable at center. He never makes a significant mistake on defense and will keep putting up 12-5-5 at the very least. Stop looking for any flashy plays or 30-point outbursts, instead appreciate the high level of consistency and adequacy.
Finally, in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics have a two-headed monster of athleticism and young blood. For Jaylen, no matter if he goes 1-10 or 10-10, the defense will always be there. And every once in a while he will dunk on someone’s head to get the crowd going. Last night, as a perfect example, he finished with just 4 points but took on DeMar DeRozan and at times Kyle Lowry on the other end.
Tatum, no matter if he is influential on defense or not, will always have his offense to fall back on. While Kyrie has been out, Tatum is quietly becoming a 20-point scorer. The offense is running around his high post-ups and isolations. Also, he is my favorite “shoot a three of an offensive rebound” guy. My least favorites if you were wondering are Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder from last year. “Out to Crowder, he’ll take a three…nope.”
To conclude: the starting lineup is good.
The Warriors have “Chef” Curry but the Celtics have something better: “Baker” Baynes. To start the game, Aron Baynes had 12 of the C’s first 19 points. That included two threes, one from the corner and one from the top of the key.
From there, the “Baker’s” job was done. Really, it was classic “Baker” Baynes. Start the game with 12 points to catalyze the offense, then sink back into the shadows. Baynes would not score for the rest of the game but he did give the crowd a moment they will probably never forget.
The question has to be asked: can the Celtics capture the one seed with 11 days remaining in the season? Right now, Boston is 2 games behind Toronto and the two teams play again on Wednesday. Other than that, the remaining schedule looks like this: at Milwaukee, vs Bulls, vs Hawks, at Wizards, vs Nets. 4-2? 5-1? Maybe even 6-0? If the Celtics can beat the Raptors on Wednesday, the scenario is likely. Unfortunately, we have to wait a few days before getting too excited.
P.S. I’m already excited
The Celtics visit Milwaukee on Tuesday for a potential first-round matchup preview. Kyrie will be out again, but for the first time I am not too worried.